Drain The Swamp

Red-Tailed Hawks in El Barrio and Central Park area

Red-Tailed Hawks in El Barrio and Central Park area

(photo) A Red-tailed Hawk swooping over rush-hour traffic is no longer an uncommon sight in New York City.

ken Gibson

Have you ever look up in the sky and seen a large bird, or a pair of large birds, just soaring in the sky? If so, you most likely would have seen the Red-tailed Hawk, which ranges from Canada to Latin America. It’s Latin name is Buteo jamaicensis, as it was first recorded in Jamaica. It is common there and into Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.  And it is getting common here too, what with about 13 nesting sites recorded in  for Manhattan. The breeding success rate is high, with 26 hatches at 12 of these sites, 24 eyasses fledging. What with the abundance of food – mainly rats, squirrels and pigeons, they eat well.   These birds are all over Manhattan, from the Heights, where four nests are known  (Inwood Hill Park,  J. Hood Wright Park,  Highbridge Park-Swindler Cove, and the Fairview Avenue side of Gorman Park) to Alphabet City, where a male hawk has at one time been seen with two mates. Not to say that he is unfaithful, to be fair to him, what happened was that his first mate got sick and was in a rehab facility. While she was away, another female hawk took a liking to him and moved in. So he ended up with two nests, and managed to provide for both. His first mate returned and he was busy providing for two nests and two mates.  Another site of nesting activity for this species was one of the corbels of the Trump Parc, located on Central Park South. This was occupied for one season, in 2005, and was recorded in a book with breathtaking photographs by D. Bruce Yolton. A nest that has been used much more is that located on West 97th Street. But the most famous hawk, whose nest on East 74th Street across has been raised eyasses for years, is Pale Male.  The average New Yorker thinks mostly of this celebrity bird. This is due to the central location of this famous Gothamite, and the furious media interest, including journalist Marie Winn’s well known book Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park.  When people ask how Pale Male got his moniker, the answer is actually a bit technical. The Red-tailed Hawk, as with most Buteos, tends to have more variation than most other species. So much so that splitters and lumpers argue over the subspecies. Some subspecies Red-tails were considered separate species in the past. The wide range of B. jamaicensis, from Canada to Panama, makes for this phenomenon. Thus Pale Male has less spotting on his chest than other subspecies; a list of which is appended below. The hawks in the Heights tend to be more heavily barred and darker than Pale Male.  The pair that lived in or near Spanish Harlem were known as Tristan and Isolde, nesting at the Cathedral of St John the Divine and using the Great Hill and Northwoods in Central Park as their hunting ground.  Presently there is some doubt as to whether Pale Male is even still alive; some claim he died in 2015, but there have been recent sightings of a hawk with a pale head and breast that may be him.  Red-tailed hawks are not the only raptors seen in Manhattan, there are several more including Peregrine Falcons. Over 300 specieas of birds have been seen in Central Park, making Manhattan a top birding city for the United States. In these days of limited activity, bird watching is an option and with Central Park, a number of other parks and the East River in or near the district, there is a natural activity that can be enjoyed.  Below is a list of the many subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk. It is quite possible that in just this one district, a birder may see several subspecies of this bird over time.  B. j. jamaicensis, the nominate subspecies, found in Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles. El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rio holds the highest known density of Red-tailed Hawks anywhere.  B. j. alascensis, found from southeastern coastal Alaska to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.   B. j.calurus found from central Alaska, through western Canada south to Baja California. It winters from southwestern British Columbia southwest to Guatemala and northern Nicaragua.  B. j. costaricensis,  found from Nicaragua to Panama.  B.j.fuertesii, found from northern Chihuahua to southern Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Louisiana.   B. j.  fumosus, found on Islas Marías, Mexico.  B. j. hadropus, found in the Mexican Highlands   B. j. harlani, Harlan’s Hawk, is markedly different from all other Red-tails. In both color morphs, the plumage is blackish and white, lacking warm tones (save the tail). The tail may be reddish, dusky, whitish, or gray and can be longitudinally streaked, mottled, or barred. Shorter primaries result in wingtips that don’t reach the tail in perched birds. It breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada and winters from Nebraska and Kansas to Texas and northern Louisiana. This population may well be a separate species.  B. j. kemsiesi, found from Chiapas to Nicaragua.  B. j. kriderii is paler than other Red-tails, especially on the head; the tail may be pinkish or white. In the breeding season, it occurs from southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and extreme western Ontario south to south-central Montana, Wyoming, western Nebraska, and western Minnesota. In winter, it occurs from South Dakota and southern Minnesota south to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.   B. j. socorroensis, found on Socorro Island, Mexico.  B. j. solitudinus,  found in the Bahamas and Cuba  B. j. umbrinus, found in peninsular Florida north to Tampa Bay and the Kissimmee Prairie.

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